TWO CHARACTERS IN SEARCH OF A LESSER PLUTARCH
By Hugo J. Byrne
The similarity between two actors of today's world stage is most striking. So much so, we could describe their off-base speech and impudent acts as somewhat parallel. Those actors are, of course, not worth of the talented accounts of a Plutarch, for that extraordinary Greek biographer and essayist wrote comparisons between the lives of illustrious Greeks and Romans of fame.
Barry McCaffery and Jorge Castañeda are neither Greek nor Roman, but American and Mexican respectively, and by no stretch of the language could they be described as "illustrious."
Nevertheless, their public lives parallel each other and a certain common denominator could be established between their actions, sorry words and respective political careers at each side of the Mexican Border.
According to Gen. Norman Scwarzkopf, McCaffery's boss in the Gulf War, Barry was the most aggressive U.S. Army commander of the campaign. In his best seller "It doesn't take a Hero", Schwarzkopf lavishes praise on McCaffery's fighting qualities. We respect the opinion of "Storming Norman." Too bad for McCaffery that the war against Iraq was very brief and too bad for the U.S. that he opted for retirement and accepted Clinton's appointment to lead the Drug Enforcement Administration.
Behind his stern countenance and martial looks (no other apparent reason could have prompted Bill Clinton, the consummate P.R. man, to pick this colorless ex-soldier as his "Drug Czar") McCaffery hides a very simple mind. That was extremely obvious a short while after he took over his duties as leader of the "war on drugs." As anti-drug warrior McCaffery was totally unable to match his feats as a soldier. His combat prowesses were just distant memories contrasting with his dismal record as a federal law enforcer. Alas, McCaffery the "Drug Czar" was aggressive only towards his many critics, but rather than bold his anti-drug initiatives could only be described as tepid as best and timid at worst. The "crown jewel" among his many blunders was his characterization of General Rebollo (then his Mexican counterpart) as our best asset south of the border in the struggle to interdict contraband. Just days after the unwise statement, Rebollo was arrested by the Mexican Police on charges of collusion with the same drug cartel he was supposed to be fighting. For once McCaffery was true to his Gulf War fame, and displaying a "Clintonesque" hard face, kept his job and sailed through the ridiculous affair. Any lesser (or prouder) man would have resigned in shame.
Later on, McCaffery added heavy material to his record of stupidity by agreeing with the noisy pro-Castro political crowd. The Caribbean dictator he claimed, was no longer dangerous to the U.S. and thus, should not be treated as an enemy. Dismissing with Olympic disdain the huge stack of evidence pointing to Castro's past and present involvement with international terrorism, or his verbal threats to the security of our nation up to just before Sept. 11, McCaffery called for the U.S. unilateral lifting of the commercial embargo on Castro, for "U.S. foreign policies should not be dictated by the Cuban American Community of Southern Florida."
Gen. McCaffery is at the present time holding a professorship for the U.S. Army Academy at West Point. For the sake of both the cadets and the nation we hope his academic duties are limited to military tactics at corporal level.
The common denominator we see between the stolid Gen. McCaffery and Jorge Castañeda, the Mexican author, essayist and academic turned diplomat by the ironies of Mexican politics, is Fidel Castro.
In Castañeda's case, Castro may be even the one reason for his appointment to the position of Mexican Chancellor: Trying to avoid a direct confrontation with the powerful Mexican political left, President Fox chose Castañeda as his top ambassador, both for his leftist background as for his apparent partial change of political compass. White, wealthy, with blue eyes and graying red beard, with a fine education acquired overseas, Castañeda is the epitome of the Mexican "dilettanti", and therefore a prime candidate to membership in the ruling class, no matter which party governs Mexico.
If Fox was trying to woo the left while placating the right, the appointment of Jorge Castañeda proved to be a disappointing flop. The conservatives in Mexico and elsewhere mistrust Castañeda for his leftist credentials, while the Marxist revolutionaries are unforgiving about his alleged departure from revolutionary dogma. His two books, "La Utopía Desarmada" ("The Disarmed Uthopia") and "Compañero" (His laudatory biography of "Che" Guevara) are both banned in Cuba. Worst, Castro has a visceral -perhaps even personal- dislike of Castañeda and does not make any bones about it. At a meeting in Havana during Fox recent visit, Castro, making hash of protocol, admonished Castañeda: "¡No me pongas cara de malo!" (Don't give me that dirty look!). When the meeting was over, Castro was quoted as confiding to one of his "diplomats": "Our enemy is not Fox, he is just a naïve dolt. Our enemy is that young kid Jorge Castañeda, the traitor to our revolutionary ideals, who now thinks he is the Latin American Tony Blair."
The definitive cause of Mexico's Foreign Affairs fiasco lays not on the seemingly abhorrent result of the impasse at the Mexican Embassy in Havana, which was overwhelmingly embarrassing to the Fox government, but on Castañeda's own stupidity. His statements in Miami were transmitted verbatim not only by Radio Martí, but also by Castro's controlled Cuban TV stations. In the era of instant communications it is not possible to have a political discourse in Mexico City, a different one in Havana and yet another in Miami, without deleterious consequences. Can anybody be surprised at the indignant outcome? Was the whole affair just a Castro trap to embarrass Castañeda while arresting a few hundred naïve Cubans in the process? For sure time will tell.
Once more we can point to the fact that neither impressive looks nor academic achievements can substitute for lack of common sense, and that is the parallel between McCaffery and Castañeda.